What’s the best way to take your supplements? We get this question a lot here at Life Extension, and the best short answer we can offer is “it depends.”
You see, most multivitamin or multinutrient formulas combine vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients together, and they can be conveniently taken in just one or a few doses a day.
If you’re going this route exclusively, things are pretty simple.
However, many nutritional “purists” prefer to buy their nutrients individually and take them on specifically tailored schedules in order to help maximize their absorption. This, of course, can be a bit more complicated.
So if you’re a “die hard” nutrient seeker looking for pointers on what to take when and why, here are some guidelines to help you get the most out of the supplements you take. Enjoy!
Take Fat-Soluble Nutrients with Fatty MealsBefore we begin, here’s a list of some common fat-soluble nutrients:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols)
- Vitamin K
- Coenzyme Q10
If you’re taking supplements that actually contain fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, you can take fat-soluble nutrients along with them. However, some people can’t tolerate this, since taking fish oil supplements on an empty stomach irritates their stomach. If this sounds like you, be sure to take your fat-soluble nutrients with a meal.
Finally, although there’s no harm in dividing doses, fat-soluble nutrients can be taken together once a day.
Take Water-Soluble Nutrients With or Without FoodWater-soluble nutrients dissolve in water and don’t need to be taken with fat or food, unless it upsets your stomach. This group includes vitamin C.
Because members of the B vitamin complex work together, it’s best to take them together and not individually. Recommended doses vary. For example, 3,000 milligrams (mg) of niacin has been recommended for high cholesterol levels. And although niacin is a water-soluble vitamin, many people take it with meals to minimize the niacin-flush, which is a typical reaction that includes reddening of the skin, itching, and tingling.
Minerals are not fat soluble, so there is no reason to take them with food unless they’re irritating to your stomach. Zinc and copper, which are notorious for causing nausea when taken on an empty stomach, are an exception.
Calcium (particularly when sold as calcium carbonate, such as TUMS® and other products) is good at neutralizing stomach acid. However, the normally acidic environment of the stomach is ideal for digestion and protects against unwanted bacteria. For this reason, take calcium on an empty stomach for optimal digestion.
Take Amino Acids SeparatelyAmino acid supplements can be taken with or without food unless you’re targeting the blood brain barrier (or if they’re antagonistic toward each other). Those used for brain health include L-arginine, L-ornithine, L-lysine, L-phenylalanine, and L-tyrosine.
L-lysine, for example, competes for cell receptors with L-arginine, so they’re best used separately. Other antagonistic amino acids are tryptophan and phenylalanine or tyrosine, taurine and glutamic acid or aspartic acid, carnitine and tyrosine, and cysteine and lysine.
If you’re using a protein supplement that contains a full spectrum of amino acids (or eating foods that do), don't worry about amino acid competition. Protein supplements are generally used to support muscle rather than target an individual condition, which is the case with single amino acids.
The Bottom LineIt’s almost impossible to regulate your nutrient intake so that everything is optimized at all times, but this should at least help those of you who are trying. Did it? Let us know in the comments below!
Note that even though the information above is good to know, many people prefer to just take a multinutrient supplement along with a good diet, and leave the fine-tuning to the experts.
So, please don't worry if you can't always take your nutrients at their “ideal” times. By simply consuming a little more than the average diet provides, you should be in pretty good shape anyway!
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